Our creeds should be guided by doctrine, not our doctrines by our creeds.
“Do animals have souls?” Is a question I’ve heard over the years, and, unfortunately, it is often answered in the negative despite the Bible being clear on this matter. I’ve heard several teachers I admire over the years dismiss the idea with a mocking, “Of course, animals do not have souls.”
As noted the Bible is clear that animals are souls and have spirits. I think the problem, however, has its roots in a few assumptions which preclude what the scripture has to say. Most Christians do not understand the “soul,” nor the “spirit” and assume that only man must “have” a soul for only he is immortal. These are all assumptions from tradition and creeds, not from scripture. The Bible is very clear on these matters, but since it upsets the catechism, it must be “reinterpreted” to fit the accepted understanding.
1. Animals Are Souls (Hebrew: Nephesh; Greek Psuche)
It’s suggested that “living ones” is a better translation of the Hebrew and Greek, however, we see in scripture that a soul can die (“The soul who sins shall die” Ezek 18:20). More problematic it is said of the first man, Adam, that he “became a living soul” (Gen 2:7). The Hebrew (transliterated) reads “chay nephesh.” Adam did not become a “living living one.” Well, he sort of did, but it’s an awkward way to say it. Better understood, the dust God called “Adam” was formed, God breathed (spirit) into him, and he became a living soul.
In Gen 1:21, God is said to create “every living creature” (Gen 1:22, kole chay nephesh). This is exactly what Adam is. Animals were created “living souls.” The KJV translates “nephesh” as “soul” 475 times. Gen 1:24 reads the same.
In Numbers 9 “nephesh“ is translated “dead body” (and elsewhere). 475 times translated as “soul,” yet some places translated “dead body.” This is because who we are is a combination (not triune as God is) of body, soul and spirit. YOU are a soul, YOU are your body, YOU live because of spirit (breath) in you. YOU can be alive and you can be dead. Your body can be alive or it can be dead. Who you are (soul) can be alive or dead.
When we read of those cast into the fire that is not not quenched, where the worm does not die, it is not “nephesh” cast there, it is “peger,” carcasses (Is 66:24, Strong’s 6297). The living shall look upon carcasses, not upon “souls” being tortured.
Paul, in 1 Cor 15:45, quotes Gen 2:7 when writing of Adam. There he uses “záō psychḗ.” Psychḗ is translated “soul” 57 times in the KJV. Animals are souls. They are living beings with breath (spirit), as we shall see.
2. Animals Have Spirit* (Hebrew: Rûach/neshâmâh ; Greek: Pneûma)
*”spirit” needs its own deeper study, it is a word/concept which encompasses many things. This is just an overview within the context of this study.
Ecclesiastes 3:19, “For what happens to the sons of men also happens to animals; one thing befalls them: as one dies, so dies the other. Surely, they all have one breath (rûach)...” (NKJV)
Adam was formed from the dust as a non-living soul, until God breathed (nâphach) into him “the breath of life” (neshâmâh chay), then he “became a living soul” as we have seen. We are souls, and when alive, we have spirit. When we die, the spirit (temporal life, which is from God, which originates from God) goes back to him who gave it.
We see this at the cross when the Savior commits his spirit unto the Father, Lk 23:46, (“Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit.”) . Luke tells us, “Having said this, He breathed His last [gave up the spirit].” We know from scripture that the Lord’s body was in “the belly of the earth for three days and three nights” (Mt 12:40). And we know, his “soul” was in “Hades (hell)” until the resurrection (Acts 2:31).
- His body was in the grave/earth
- His spirit was committed to the Father in heaven
- His soul was in Hades/hell [the abode of the dead]
The Lord Jesus is not a triune being on his own (and neither are we).
3. Temporal Life in the Flesh to Eternal Life by the Spirit
The breath of life is a gift of God. Spirit is that which is directly created or from God. This is why both angels and demons are both termed “spirits.” When scripture speaks of the “spiritual,” it is that which is from God (spiritual things, spiritually minded, spiritually discerned, etc.).
Also note here that “sons” also refers to that which is a direct work of God. Fallen angels are called “the sons of God” in scripture, yet we must be “become the sons of God” by believing on his name (Jn 1:12). We are born of the flesh / corruptible seed, but we “must be born again” by the Spirit (God) and the Word.
That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. John 3:6
Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. 1 Peter 1:23
We are born in corruption. We are born mortal. We are born in terrestrial bodies of death. As we have seen in previous studies this is why we must have resurrection. “The wages (curse) of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). In Adam, all die. In resurrection we “put on immortality” and “put on incorruption.” (1 Cor 15:54). Then and only then do we become immortal.
The true faith putteth [setteth forth] the resurrection, which we be warned to look for every hour. The heathen philosophers, denying that, did put [set forth] that the souls did ever live. -William Tyndale (An Answer to Sir Thomas More's Dialogue)
4. A Soul Is Not Immortal
Scripture only uses the word “immortality” (Greek: athanasía) in two passages in the original languages. There are a few places in the epistles where “incorruptible” is translated as “immortality,” but we’ll leave that alone for our scope here.
The blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; Who alone (mónos: sole, single, only) has immortality ... 1 Tim 6:15-16a
So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. 1 Cor 15:54
The context of 1 Cor 15 is the exchanging of the “terrestrial” body for the “celestial” body. It is the great Resurrection chapter. When we are resurrected, then we become immortal. Until then, we are mortal (we die) and we are corruptible (we decay). The subject of resurrection and the significance of the Lord’s lack of decay in the tomb are covered in other studies.
The lie of Satan was and still is “You shall not surely die... you shall be as [Elohim]”(Gen 3:4-5). Immortality is the promise of false religions and offered as a reward for the works of our hands. God alone is immortal. “In Adam all die, even so in Christ shall [future] all be made alive!” 1 Cor 15:22
I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins. John 8:24
Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. John 5:24
Animals are souls. They have spirit while they are living. We are souls. We have spirit while we are living. When animals die, they decay back to dust. When we die, we decay back to dust. Animals are not immortal. We are not immortal. We are flesh, born of flesh. This is why we “must be born again” (John 3) by the Spirit, by the Word of God (Rom 10:17; 1 Peter 1:23, etc.). When we “believe unto salvation” (Rom 1:16; 10:10) we “become the Sons of God” (John 1:12). Our lives/souls are then “hid in God” (Col 3:3). When we believe the gospel, our lives are “sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph 1:13; 4:30).
Since God alone is immortal, he alone can grant immortality. He has clearly told us in his Word that immortality is secured by faith in the finished work of the Son of God and will be experienced by those who follow him in resurrection.
When we speak of “redemption,” we mean the redemption of the body, the exchanging of the old body for the new (2 Cor 5:1-8). This is why we do not eagerly seek death, we eagerly seek the “day of redemption” (Eph 4:30). He have that redemption now as permanent possession (Eph 1:7), but we will not experience it in full until the day of redemption (Eph 1:14). We are his “purchased possession” awaiting redemption of the body; we have “passed from death unto life” by faith alone (John 5:24). For this we praise him!
[Christ] In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.